Miami-Dade County

Cuban historian responds to Gables family about kin’s grave

The gravesite of Jacinto Pedroso, in Havana’s Colón Cemetery, before it was sold without his Coral Gables’ family’s knowledge.
The gravesite of Jacinto Pedroso, in Havana’s Colón Cemetery, before it was sold without his Coral Gables’ family’s knowledge. Courtesy of José Valdés-Fauli

Eusebio Leal, the powerful historian of Havana, has replied to a letter from Coral Gables businessman José Valdés-Fauli and promised to investigate his complaint about the illegal seizure of an illustrious grandfather's mausoleum in the Cuban capital’s famed Colón Cemetery.

“I have read the reports published after you, during a recent visit to Havana, confirmed the painful facts of the appropriation of the property of your family, so ancient and respected by all Havana residents,” Leal wrote, referring to an article published by El Nuevo Herald on June 8.

During a visit in May to participate in the XII Havana Biennial arts festival, Valdés-Fauli visited the mausoleum of his maternal grandfather, Jacinto Pedroso, a businessman and banker who founded the Banco Pedroso. He died in 1955.

Valdés-Fauli told the newspaper that during the visit he saw that his grandfather's name on the tomb had been clumsily erased and an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus had been replaced by the new owner with an image of the Virgin Mary. One of the cemetery guards later told him that he had been ordered to throw Pedroso's remains into a common grave and erase his name.

The Colón Cemetery, containing scores of grand mausoleums of Cuba’s wealthiest families, is on the World Cultural and Natural Heritage list.

Trying to learn more about the case, Valdés-Fauli said earlier this month, he also met with Maricela de las Nieves Ramos Díaz, director of the Cuban government's National Register of Cultural Properties. She told him that the mausoleum had been legally sold twice since 1993, under the legal concept of “usucaption.”

Part of the legal code of Cuba and many other countries, the concept means that a person can acquire the property of another if the person has been using it, as an owner, for a period of time without disturbance or interruption, María Elena Cobas Cobiella, a Cuba-born professor at the Valencia University in Spain, told El Nuevo Herald at the time. In Cuba, that period is five years.

Not satisfied with Ramos’ answers, Valdés-Fauli wrote to Leal stating that many members of his family “had gone to pay their respect to their grandfather over the last 17 years, and it is now that we learn of this desecration of this tomb.”

Leal, whose work to preserve and restore historic parts of the Cuban capital earned him the nickname of “the mayor of Havana,” wrote back to Valdés-Fauli that he knows nothing about the case.

“But in the next few hours I will visit the cemetery, if I don't first receive some justification for the change in ownership of the Sacred Heart or its replacement with an image of the virgin,” said the text of the Leal letter provided to El Nuevo Herald.

“Various sources in Havana have confirmed to me that Leal is taking this seriously,” Valdés-Fauli told El Nuevo Herald. “He has met with the management of the cemetery. Time will tell us if something can be done.

“Although the tombs of other families in the cemetery have been damaged, there's been nothing like my grandfather's situation, where 100 percent of the tomb has been damaged, it has been totally emptied and then it has been sold,” the Coral Gables businessman said.

Havana historian Eusebio Leal’s letter:

Dear Sir,

I have read the reports published after you confirmed, during a recent visit to Havana, the painful facts of the appropriation of the property of your family, so ancient and respected by all Havana residents.

I know nothing about this event, but in the next few hours I will visit the cemetery, if I don't first receive some justification for the change in ownership of the Sacred Heart or its replacement with an image of the virgin.”

As a fervent believer in the resurrection of the dead and the after-life, I am more concerned about the damage done to the memory of your grandfather than about the fate of his mortal remains, which God will decide.

Now I offer my condolences and my disposition to try to investigate, as far as it is possible, the causes and reasons for these events.

Sincerely,

Eusebio Leal Spengler

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